BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Giving thanks

Bryan County Genealogy Library

Our ancestors in Indian Territory must have been pleased with the notice in the Caddo Star on November 9, 1876: “I, Ulysses S. Grant, President of the United States, do recommend to the people of the United States to devote the 30th day of November next to the expression of their thanks and prayers to Almighty God and laying aside their daily avocations and all secular occupations to assemble in their respective places of worship and observe such day as a day of thanksgiving and rest. In witness whereof…”

As a nation we are seldom more united in thought and deed than on Thanksgiving Day. Gathering with friends and family, counting our blessings, and sharing a bountiful harvest has been a national tradition since George Washington issued a proclamation for “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789. For years Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale of New Hampshire petitioned governors to celebrate on a common day, finally prevailing in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln recognized that day as the last Thursday in November. Congress made it a national holiday in 1870, but left it up to each president to set the actual date.

It’s easy to see the roots of our current celebrations in those of the past. In 1899 Reverend Noble of Caddo thanked E. O. Harrison for his gift of a “fine Thanksgiving turkey”. The Baptist Academy required ten birds to complete their meal. As early as 1900 there was a football game played between Armstrong Academy and Caddo on Thanksgiving. And of course the local churches, following a “joint service”, offered a sumptuous meal. Community meals also offered residents an opportunity to raise money for local projects such as a school or town Christmas tree. Pie and cake auctions were very popular events.

In October of 1905 there was a report of controversy in the Durant Daily Democrat: “There are five Thursdays in November and a dispute has arisen as to which one should be Thanksgiving Day- the 23rd or 30th. When Theodore returns to Washington City it will not take him long to settle it.” He chose the 30th.

Franklin D. Roosevelt briefly moved the date to the third Thursday in order to give citizens more shopping time, but the change was unpopular. On October 6, 1941, House Joint Resolution 41 reinstated the traditional last Thursday of November.

The holiday activities of 1921 might seem a bit peculiar to us, but the essentials were still present: food, companionship, competition and prizes. “One of the most delightful events of the season was the ‘Thanksgiving Frolick’ given by the Presbyterian Aid Society…Hearts were played, after which there were contests, the first being capitols of the states… Miss Algean Chiles was winner of the Riddle contest, receiving a lovely box of bonbons.” Seniors from the Caddo High class of 1923 finished off their party with a game of “pin the head on the turkey”. They also had contests which were rewarded with a “huge stick of candy” and pieces of chewing gum.

No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving Day, the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives would like to wish you a day of safety and good health. We’re thankful for your readership this year. If you would like help with your family history, stop by 203 North McKinley in Calera, OK and let us show you our resources. We’re open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.